Holly Santaguida has honed her craft from watching and playing with two of the best tennis players to ever walk onto a high school tennis court in Northwest Indiana.
The Highland junior spent last season teaming with former Trojan Aby Madrigal in No. 1 doubles. Madrigal and her twin sister, Vany, were doubles state champions in 2012. Aby was a two-time doubles champ, picking up her first title in 2011.
"Last year, Aby and Vany were the leaders," Santaguida said. "They definitely were really hard workers and were very dedicated to their game. I wanted to follow that, so I quit basketball just so I could focus mainly on tennis and I could be a better tennis player."
The step up to being the team's leader and No. 1 singles player this season didn't come without an extremely rough bump in the road a few months ago. Santaguida was hospitalized for four days over Thanksgiving due to histamine intolerance, an uncommon allergic reaction. It rendered her unable to play tennis for almost two months -- which was both physically and mentally agonizing.
"It was really tough," Santaguida said. "I really wanted to get better in (the fall). Obstacles do happen, and I'm just trying to recover from it and be stronger. That makes me be a stronger person from what happened."
Highland coach Jordan Heckard knows what kind of talent he has in Santaguida -- a first-team all state selection last season. Five varsity players graduated last season, so Heckard has relied on Santaguida's experience.
"She's very savvy, she's smart," Heckard said. "She reads the player well. She's become a student of the game. She's gotten a lot better at knowing how a point is going to unfold. She's got a bigger serve now and she trusts herself to know she can get her toss up, extend her arms, hit the ball and get down on it."
Santaguida has taken lessons from Ofie Madrigal, the mother of the twins and a former assistant coach of the Trojans. It has helped her grow tremendously.
"I feel like this year I've had more heart towards this season of tennis," she said. "I really want to improve and get better. Before school I'll go hit around at the tennis court. After practice I'll stay to work on extra things. I just really want to make this year count."